Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Price of Sunlight

I'm in a gushing hurry to finish many things before leaving to board with a dog and leave for Prague on Sunday, but I couldn't let your responses to my last post dangle as though I were too numb to absorb them. Indeed, your sympathy -- and in many cases, your shared experience -- had a profound impact on me. Possibly even more impacting was the effort and tears I put into writing that post and waking up on Monday to a calmer disposition.

It was weird, though. On Monday I felt like the previous couple of days had been a lost weekend, with grief instead of food or booze or something. I ran into a good friend who I see nearly every day and it was like I'd been far away to someplace bleak, like Chernobyl. But the air had cleared. The humidity dropped, the air was cleaner and cooler. I'd cried most of my available tears and had tried to articulate this process and its peculiar grief as best I could. I understand my reaction a little better and I definitely feel a community of people going through the same feelings.

But the price of having a little light back in my scope of vision has been not being able to get to sleep at night and waking to a churning stomach with all the things I have to do before I leave on Sunday. There comes a point in the afternoon when I wilt. I've been unable to get my body on to a subway to exchange dollars for crowns -- Herald Square feels amazingly too daunting for me. When I took a look at the Czech Airlines website, however, I saw that I could make the exchange at JFK.

And today I plum fell over and badly bloodied my knee, either not paying attention to Daisy or to the uneven sidewalk. Gawwww...

Sometimes I wonder what hallucinogens I was taking when I booked this trip. I'm an agoraphobe! Is someone who can't face the bustle of Midtown fit to travel to a place where there are words with no vowels???

I've done the best I can. I booked a lunch cruise of Vlatava River for five hours after arrival. I should just about make it, with time for dropping my bags, having coffee and finding the meeting place. From then until 2 I don't have to think. I can just take pictures of the bridges and castles and drink Czech beer.

It's been hard to go from that blotted grieving place to semi-productivity, but I wanted you to know there are breaks in this hideous process. I have a coaching project on hand and I really do love not only cleaning up prose but finding the story that is often missing from the pages. I've run errands when I can steel myself to get out and done odds and ends toward being out of hear in reasonable order on Sunday. I feel much better that I won't be a loose ends with jet lag when I arrive. I also booked excursions to Nizbor to see the Bohemian glassworks, to Kutna Hora, an amazing cathedral town, and to Terezin, because I believe that if one can visit a death camp, it's a moral obligation to do so. All of it leaves another six hours a day to see Prague in my own slow fashion.

And I think I will buy Christmas ornaments for my parents while I'm there. I think I will try to focus on what is beautiful and possible in their futures.

With a lot of help from my cyber-friends.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Oh, yeah -- we're back to discussing depression again.

This ongoing mood I'm enduring is weird. I've written before about my beasts of depression -- the black dog, the red beast, the gray dog -- & I think that what's interesting is that my depressions have specific colors attached to them. A red depression is anger turned inward. A black depression is very very bad. A gray bout is milder but has a hopeless quality.

One reason I've been relatively silent lately is because I really don't want to talk, don't want to feel. I had dinner with very close friends last night who have gone through the business of how to deal with failing parents. I described how I want to sleep all the time, how my stomach is always electric with a stress I can't attach a name to, how lonely I feel & how incapable I am of soothing that loneliness.

"Yep," A. said. "That's the Elderly Parent Depression. We should find a color for it. Maybe blue. Or lavender."

I've been think that perhaps this feeling is the static on a television, an absence rather than an excess of feeling. I forgot that white is the combination of all colors when I typed it into Google images, thinking instead how blank white is. One of the first suggestions it gave me was "white tiger". OK, I thought. I have my beast. Padding almost silently as it stalks me. Not bad. This is a quiet mood.

But it's not quite right, the white tiger. I don't feel hunted in this mood-space. I'm not torturing myself with accusations, or at least not the kind that make me feel at once filthy and helpless. I think we've been very high-handed with my father, announcing plans to move him and Mom into assisted living in Montana on September 14th, transferring all their medical records, making lists of what will be moved north, even talking with my dad's financial adviser. But I also know that my brother and I can't keep flying to Arizona when there's a crisis and that my father is terribly lonely with Mom in a nursing home and blindness making him dependent on car services and Meals-on-Wheels. We're doing the best thing for them but I feel that in doing what we're doing, we've stripped my father of a lot of his vitality. Meals-on-Wheels for Mr. Cook? Every week he sounds a little more reduced, a little less in possession of his command over life. Will it come back when he's settled and Mom is with him? Will Mom shake out of her lack of interest that has come with the consequences of what I think now was a stroke?

I tell myself it will all be worth it when he walks outside on September 15th and smells the pure, sweet, cool air of the Bitterroot Valley. Will it? Can we re-create his mental stronghold for him? Will his curiosity and desires return?

Perhaps what I'm feeling is what I'm hearing. Without one of us there to read him his music, lecture and Library for the Blind catalogues, there's little excitement or eagerness in him. He seems not to have lost his appetite so much as his taste and his cravings -- and a reason to cook. When Mom was home for a couple of terrible weeks, she barked commands. "Water!" "Bathroom!" Now my brother and I are informing him of his next moves. And with Mom more comfortably established in the nursing home, his wife has turned into someone more vacant than he's ever known her to be, losing her thoughts and her own tastes and cravings (except for chocolate). His world is small and out of his hands.

And I am haunted by it.

There is color in this grief and terror and loneliness I am experiencing, but not much and not clear enough to define the outside world by. I miss my mom -- not only because I can't get hold of her in the nursing home but because my mom isn't really there any more. Now I'm starting to miss my father, too. What I seem to have -- a conversation with them, a visit -- is leached of its vibrancy and possibility.

Maybe this depression, as I suffer through articulating it, is the way my father, blinded by macular degeneration, sees the world. Incomplete and without a center.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In the Day

My world has been rocked so severely this summer that I badly want the emotional space to absorb and deal with crises in other people's lives. Things are going on in my extended family's lives that need a certain amount of what's left of my heart, and my heart needs to rebuild by being there for them and by being here for myself.

To whit, this is Day Six of a clean abstinence that pretty much drifted down on me in a meeting. Something about having acquaintances console me and stroke my arms carried that ineffable grace we all need to take whatever the first step toward healing is.

My crisis upon arriving back from Arizona is abating. I know my manuscript will be accepted; Henry has departed for the suburbs and is beyond my clutching grief; my prescription company has finally gotten back in touch with me; there is a modest amount of income coming in from dogs and from coaching writers, a gig I find I really like. I'm a tough and honest judge of writing, but I'm good at it.

My loose ends seem still to cluster around the book, however. When will the legal department vett it so that the second payment can be made? Will the woman who participated in the book sign the necessary waivers? How in the world can we make a January pub date when we're already so behind? Should we move it to June or the following year?

My mother is such a moving target of good, lucid, humorous spells, followed by bratty breakdowns, followed by gasping, gray-faced immobility and incoherence, that I can't say much more except that my parents will be moving back to Montana in September. This, of course, has consequences for me. I'm not looking forward to regular visits to the ghosts of my home town. It's twice the expense of flying to Phoenix. There is one Very Very Important Person in Arizona who I'll know longer see every so often. And all of this has been coming to a head in the last two weeks, with about three or four weeks to go -- a time period in which I must make some money and will be away for eight days in Czech-fucking-Republic. I just accepted a boarding job that will end with a last walk just before I go home and pick up my bags and leave for JFK. Last night, in sorting out the dates, it all became real to me.

So add a dose of extremely useless guilt that I'm not on the spot to help with this move.

I have serene moments and once-a-day or so meltdowns. Today I will write or call a good friend of my parents' who is one of the heads of the "Alternative Catholic Community" in Missoula to ask him to perform Last Rites for Mom. My mom's involvement in forming the ACC is how she got ex-communicated. I call it "Our Lady of Off-Off Broadway". Suddenly I find their inclusiveness ("Our Father and Mother...") not quite as hilarious. I need them. I will be easier in my heart for the Rites and I think Mom will too.

But today is today: surprise! I've got dogs to walk and board out. I have Zoloft to pick up at the drug store. I have finances to take a serious look at. Writing this is heroic but then each action in the day feels heroic -- brush my teeth? Impossible. Do it anyway. OK, if I can do that, maybe I can take my meds. Maybe I can wash the breakfast dishes. Maybe I can pick up a few things at the store. Car on the Hill is so far and beyond those mundane things that I feel like a weight liftress.

I doubt I'll dive into my novel today but I might get to Psychology Today. What I'd really like is a mani/pedicure -- my fingernails are so long they account for half my typos.

In this day, I will try to be fair by my dogs. I will try to keep my needs up to date. I've been eating deliciously. I've begun toasting old fashioned oats in a skillet -- high heat for about five minutes, stirring often -- then adding them to yogurt with vanilla and blueberries. Summer tomatoes are in and deserve better than my usual dressing, so it's been olive oil, salt, lemon juice, cayenne (helps digestion) and black pepper (helps depression). I can really taste the greens and the tomatoes this way. Dinner has been yogurt, late. Comfort food at the dangerous part of the day.

I think I'll look into some electronics I'm interested in today. I think I will gave a giddy little hop for meeting each impossible challenge -- dog gigs, grocery shopping, emails, looking after my body. I was smart enough to start the morning off with half a klonopin: my brain is scrambled eggs and I've been forgetting keys and dog things and words because I'm already onto the next hurdle. Klonopin settles my brain down enough to -- well, write this before I go walk Boomer. Wear life, as an acquaintance says, like a loose sweater.

I'm feeling everything at once today. Fear, grief, shame, loss. Tranquility, acceptance, hope, relief. Anticipation, eagerness, pride, gratitude, love. My hatred is minimal and I have little curiosity -- don't really want to read or write. But then, when one is in the midst of all of that going active on at once, missing one defect and one asset ain't all that bad.